Tate Reeves never even disclosed the name of the companies that were set to receive the bulk of the $350 million in incentives he was asking a special session of the legislature to pass. Even that enormous price tag turned out to be a false flag Thursday when the lawmakers going into session learned that the final package under the title of “The Project Poppy Fund” would actually cost the state $482 million with additional bond support and other adjustments. What the taxpayers of the state get in exchange for its generous gift will be a $1.9 billion electric vehicle battery production plant destined for Marshall County’s Chickasaw Trail Industrial Park with the promise of 2,000 new jobs paying $66,000 each annually. The plant is projected to go into full production before 2029.
Rushing the House and Senate through a special session vote Thursday, Reeves waxed ecstatic when the house voted 117-2 for the bill and the senate voted 50-2 in favor. The four companies involved in the joint-venture electric battery production facility were named only after the special session was underway. They are Paccar manufacturing company currently with a plant in Columbus; Accelera, a branch of Cummins Inc.; Daimler Truck; and minority partner EVE Energy Co., Ltd. a Chinese lithium battery producer. Paccar, Accelera and Daimler Truck each own 30 percent of the joint venture. EVE Energy, the technology partner, has a 10 percent ownership.
“I can’t imagine a better way to kick off the new year than with the announcement of the largest payroll commitment and the second largest capital investment in Mississippi’s history,” Reeves said. “This historic investment by these industry-leading companies will enshrine our state at the forefront of the automotive industry for years to come.”
LEGISLATORS SPEAK OUT
The legislators who ultimately decided the fate of the project were from all across the political spectrum, Republicans and Democrats, some hot for it, though a great number of them remained skeptical or reasonably hesitant to embrace the deal on such quick notice. House minority leader Robert Johnson III of Natchez says the people of Mississippi will pay a lot more than the governor’s figures have shown, so far.
House Minority Leader Robert Johnson III of Natchez (Photo Credit: Josh Martin)
“Actually, the whole package is about $529 million,” Johnson said during a session break Thursday. “That’s the best number we got. We’re financing the company. We’re doing over $482 million in bonds and the rest of it will be appropriations and grant programs. I don’t know why the governor came out and said that it would be $350 million.” Johnson says that all the legislators had received a 200-page chart from the Mississippi Development Authority that few had had time to read before the special session began.. “We are relying on what the agency that the governor appoints told us. And that figure was
$529 million,” he said.
“The thing that people ought to be concerned about is that we don’t have any assurances that the jobs will go to Mississippians. I wanted to offer an amendment that would require them to hire Mississippi people, that at least 70 percent would be Mississippi people.” The two amendments Johnson submitted were voted down by the Republican supermajority.
“The governor eliminated a supplemental school nutrition program while saying that he did not want to expand the welfare state,” Johnson said. “But we’re giving money to a cash-rich corporation. That’s corporate welfare. Feeding children is not welfare. Feeding children is performing a public service for people you represent.
“Since the new companies won’t have to pay any property taxes or ad valorem taxes, iIn lieu of taxes, they should have a commitment to invest in the community. Give money to schools and to roads. From the money that we give them and the money they make, they should reinvest in that community.”
“What concerns me most is that we have a whole section of the state west of I-55 that this state’s development authority never looks at. They never develop jobs where our people live. There’s no place more appropriate and more ready to take new jobs than Hinds County.”
Sen. Joseph Thomas of Yazoo City
State Senator Joseph Thomas of Yazoo City said he didn’t have very much information about the electric battery proposal.
“It propped up pretty quick and we were not privileged to all the information,” he said. “On such a major issue, we should not depend on one man’s decision. And that decision should not be pushed down somebody’s throat. Why a special session? We’re going to be here for four months in the regular session. So, give me the information I need in a timely manner so I can make the best vote for my constituents and the state of Mississippi.
“We’ve got a lot of needs in our state. I’m especially concerned about expanding Medicaid. I’m not the governor, but if I had to call a special session why wouldn’t it be about Medicaid and hospitals and our other critical needs? He shouldn’t have dropped the summer nutritional support for the schools.”
Sen. Sollie Norwood of Jackson
Sen. Sollie Norwood of Jackson also complained of not having enough information about the project before being asked to vote for it in special session. Norwood pointed out that Reeves had eliminated a summer nutrition program only a week before calling for the special session. “It seems in some cases that it’s corporate welfare versus individual welfare,” Norwood said. “We might as well face it, we have individuals who need supplemental food assistance just as badly as some of these large companies need financial incentives.”
Rep. Bill Kinkade of Byhalia and Marshall County
District 52 Representative Bill Kinkade, of Marshall County, represents the site of the proposed new plant is gung ho on the special session vote.
“We worked on this project for well over a year and it’s been vetted very, very well,” Kinkade said. “This is a huge economic project. It’s transformational. This will create generational jobs, manufacturing type jobs.
“Mississippi is on a great track. Education is improving dramatically. And I think we’re in the best shape we’ve been in than I can recall during my time in the legislature, I’ve seen a lot of positives. Every economic development we’ve brought forth during my tenure, or in special session, has been positive.”
Fifth district representative John Faulkner of Holly Springs also represents the area in Marshall County where the new plant is located.
“This is a very exciting time not only for Marshall and surrounding counties, but for the entire state,” he said. Whenever you can land an economic project that could employ 2,000 people and pay an annual salary of over $60,000, that’s a gamechanger. I think the impact from this project will be felt throughout the entire state.
“But by no means will we lose sight of these other big ticket items that we’ve been fighting for years. We will continue to try to find funding for them as well.”
The legislature returned to regular session Friday morning.